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  • Writer's pictureSuzy Costello, workbooks

MFA, July 12-18 2021

Artwork of impression of mountain; Earth and Moon System; Exploring Cultural Identity; and Adam Art Gallery Crossings Exhibition.

1. Artmaking Impression of Mountain

I'm continuing recording the memory traces of site and object in my local area, this time capturing impressions of Lions Rock where I collected material for my semester one installation Mountain, Forest and Sea. This greywacke rock is an iconic local feature, climbed by all the young kids in the area and gets its name because it really does reassemble a lion sitting looking out to sea.

Using tissue paper placed over one of the smaller rocks, I captured its impression by first rubbing with a rock (intaglio) and then pencil (relief). I then used PVA glue and tissue papers to make a sculpture of the rock. Finally I took photographs and did two drawings on tissue paper. The rock is pitted with holes left by erosion and tipped on its side, exposing the stratification of layers. It's surrounded by gravel that has built up over time largely due to the tidal patterns but also from seams exposed at Pencarrow Head following the 1855 earthquake.

Image: Eastbourne and sea-wall under construction. Leslie Adkin, 21 January 1957, photographic gelatin. Te Papa, Registration NumberA.008057

2. Earth and Moon System

Tidal patterns result from the strong gravitational attraction between the Moon and Earth and to a smaller extent the attraction between the Sun and Earth. I thought I'd try to understand the Earth-Moon system a little more, especially as I have never really been able to understand the many moon phases and positions during daytime - there seem to be so many.

This is Western science approach to understanding the Earth and Moon system -

The moon is tidally locked to the Earth as they orbit the sun together. The orbit of the moon around the earth is elliptical, each revolving around the barycenter of the system approximately every 27days. The gravitational attraction of the Moon is progressively weaker as we move away from the Moon and because the centrifugal force and the Moon’s gravity cannot balance each other everywhere, the slight imbalances that occur are what cause the tides in the ocean.

Here's a tidal bulge diagram to show what happens to the oceans all around the earth. Because the moon takes a little longer to catch up with the earth's rotation, the high and low tides shift forwards each day.

So that's the tidal pattern of the earth and moon, but here are two images from Wairoa website illustrating the phases of the moon. The first image is from the northern pole it is necessary to invert the images of the moon shine to understand it from the southern hemisphere. I find it is spatially challenging to keep myself in relativity with the sun, earth and moon even with the diagrams. It is as if my mind understanding doesn't translate into a visceral embodied experience.

This is a Māori perspective on the Moon based on Rangi Matamua's description of astronomy and maramataka which I really like as it is a system tied into place and the natural world; the Māori maramataka feels the whole system operating together - earth, moon, stars and all living things are closely observed and felt as one. It talks to the heart and allows me to comprehend and experience it in the now.

"Māori, similar to other Indigenous peoples, developed a complex time system integrating celestial, environmental and ecological ocurrences to track time and seasonality. The movement of the sun, moon and stars were used as markers to regulate the timing of agricultural, fishing and hunting activities, and ritual. The pre-European Māori system to time could best be described as polychronic and environmental. These systems were also regional, tribal and localised." (Matamua p 67).

"Unlike the Gregorian calendar, which is a solar calendar that delineates a year by the amount of time it takes the earth to orbit the sun, the Māori calendar takes into account the position of the sun, the lunar phases and the pre-dawn rising (heliacal rise) of stars...when determining time" (Matamua p 67).

Maramataka identifes 30 distinct phases of the moon and Rereata Makiha shares how Māori used their maramataka (calendar) to gather and cultivate food -

"We’re teaching our tamariki and our mokopuna to understand the tohu of the taiao — the signs of the environment — and not get distracted by the Pākehā science, which is based on tīkarokaro, or pulling things apart. We don’t need to pull the fish apart to figure out how it swims. What we do is have a look for the hononga: how one thing supports another.

So, because our old people could read the taiao so well, they could tell exactly when the pohutukawa tree will flower. They knew that when that happens, a certain wind is going to blow, at a certain time of the month, and a tidal pattern is going to arise, and then you’ll find these fish eggs coming ashore. And today, if you line all those elements up, every time we’ve been out to check, it’s been right on the button."


Links -

3. Cultural Identity and Becoming Pākehā Bell, Avril. Dilemmas of settler belonging: roots, routes and redemption in New Zealand national identity claims (2017)

Bell, Avril. Moving Roots: A “Small Story” of Settler History and Home Places (2017)

I am a Pākehā because I live in a Māori country.

I've been reading NZ sociologist Avril Bell's writings that examine settler belonging and cultural identity in Aotearoa. I holds lots of insights into helping me explain my process 'to belong' in Aotearoa. Bell begins by stating in her first article, Dilemmas of settler belonging: roots, routes and redemption in New Zealand national identity claims (2017):

"In any society the dominant national culture is typically unproblematically ‘at home’. The nation is first of all theirs and their belonging unquestionable. Within the New Zealand context however, the dominant national culture has settler – migrant and colonizing – origins. Their occupation of the homeland is then not so straightforwardly secured. Others were there before them. As settlers, they claim a national identity, but as Richard Handler (1990: 8) has expressed it, they are ‘not the natives of choice’ and remain plagued by an ‘ontological unease’ (Bell, 2006: 254)."

Bell describes two groups of strategies settler descendants use to resolve issues of cultural identity, belonging and ontological unease brought about by being a people who have benefitted from the marginalisation and impoverishment of Māori who were here first. The first strategy used to construct a national identity "draws on established markers of ‘birth’, ‘blood’ and ‘belonging’" (Bell 154). Each of these I have used in the last semester to try and understand where I belong given I was born in England to an Irish mother and Kiwi father, hold mostly Irish and some English 'blood', and moved to New Zealand when I was five.

The second strategy Bell proposes to resolve dilemmas of identity and cultural belonging is one she discovered during her 2017 research and interviews with 8 young New Zealanders: the strategy of "roots, route, and redemption ".

  1. Roots: participants explore their 'roots' and question "whether or not a return to the ancestral homelands might provide the cultural belonging they felt they lacked" (Bell 154);

  2. Routes: 'routes' offer participants an "understanding their own ancestry from the historical changes and geographical journeys that are narrated in the family stories of identity" (Bell 155); and lastly,

  3. Redemption: confirming one's belonging to place by seeking confirmation from those considered appropriate to confer it i.e. indigenous people.

This strategy Bell identifies as being unique to colonial descendants in Aotearoa. It is a strategy that I have used also to try to justify my place in this country.

Bell's notion of 'redemption through identification' is contrasted with New Zealand sociologist Alison Jones' notion of 'redemption through reassurance'. Jones, Bell says, "has developed a sophisticated analysis of how the desire to be with Māori and to learn from and about them is a desire for redemption or reassurance that we/Pākehā are not implicated in ‘the violence of colonization and privilege’ (Jones, 1999: 313, also see Lattas, 1990: 60–1). Bell suggests the redemptive process "is not about claiming to be Maori, but the desire to be like Māori, to be accepted by Māori in terms of belonging, a desire Jennifer Lawn (1994: 300) describes as a desire for ‘indigenization’ and a ‘postcolonial self-fashioning’ that takes the form of a ‘narrative of disowning one’s parents and imagining oneself adopted’" (Bell 158). Both Jones' and Lawn's arguments against the reimaging of an innocent Pākehā identity are confronting and provocative and serve to unsettle those seeking an easy road to redemption.

In Bell's next article, Moving Roots: A “Small Story” of Settler History and Home Places, she offers a personal exploration of her cultural identity, sense of belonging and process towards redemption as a descendant of white settlers. Her willingness to examine conflicting feelings toward her great-great grandfather, an early settler to New Zealand and minister in a Government that 'acquired' large tracts of land from Māori, allows me to understand my situation more fully and help grapple with the complexity of emotions I too feel about my great-great grand uncle who fought in the 64th Battalion.

The role emotions play in forming attachment to 'home' is explored. Bell discusses how home can be either place or people based, situated in an imagined or natural reality, and how emotions feed an exclusionary sense of 'home' needing to be protected. She recalls French philosopher Micel Serres' description of the homely as “the hideous deadly passion for belonging, responsible for just about all the crimes in history” (quoted in Connor, 1995/2008, p. 9)!

Bell proposes complex attachments bind settler descendants to our "colonial history and the colonial present", referencing British-Australian scholar Sara Ahmed: "Through emotions, the past persists on the surface of bodies. Emotions show us how histories stay alive, even when they are not consciously remembered; how histories of colonialism, slavery, and violence shape lives and worlds in the present" (Ahmed, 2004, p. 202). However, emotions can also offer new paths forwards. Ahmed suggests emotions "open up futures, in the ways they involve different orientations to others. It takes time to know what we can do with emotion" (Ahmed, 2004, p. 202).

Ahmed's insight into the gradual unfolding of emotion and action reflects Aotearoa's slow journey over the last 5 decades to become a bicultural nation in keeping with the principles of Te Tiriti Waitangi. It is a journey that asks each of us to go beyond the convenient trap of emotional pairs of opposites (i.e. the “anti-politics", "antiracism", "anti-colonialism") in order to realise "different orientations to each other" as suggested by Ahmed. Bell shares Australian sociologist Ghassan Hage's concept of 'alter-political', which offers an alternative mode of thinking and behaving, beyond anti-politics, that seeks to heal our fractured systems of politics, economics, social structures and modes of inhabiting the earth. Hage's alter political concept, Bell believes, offers a new way forward; "propelling us towards an alter-colonial future" of Māori–Pākehā relations.

This new alter-colonial future is a brave proposition by Bell and leaves me wondering (as it does Morgan Brigg in her essay Identity and politics in settler-colonialism: relational analyses beyond domination?) if it is at risk of "re-installing the hegemony of settler scholarship that empowers European perspectives by continuing the scrutiny of Indigenous peoples from the mythically neutral space of scholarship" (Brigg intro). Is it another path to finding redemption? This issue aside, any alter-colonial future requires descendants of white settlers like myself to reexamine ourselves as Pākehā in a Māori worldview, or as Micheal Grimshaw states more succinctly: "I am a Pākehā because I live in a Māori country" (Grimshaw 2017).

Advice given to Treaty educator Jen Margaret, which she shares in a 2019 E-Tangata article titled Becoming ‘really Pākehā’, seems pertinent: "My entry to engaging with the Treaty of Waitangi was a political one which came with clear instruction from Māori and Pākehā mentors that, to be useful in this work, Pākehā need to be clear in our identity — to embrace it, not escape it" (E-Tangata, 2019). At the heart of being Pākehā is an awareness of "our privilege as beneficiaries of colonisation".

Grimshaw cautions us Pākehā settlers in our efforts to forge a new identity. He reminds us in his 2017 article I am a Pākehā because I live in a Māori country : "From the 1950s, we see the beginning of claims of a transition of Pākehā settlers in the North Island into a new Pacific people. For instance, the call in the 1952 Poetry Year Book was ‘to be a pale-skinned Polynesian instead of a sun-tanned, transplanted European…’ arising from ‘an adjustment of English practice to meet the needs of those stranded in the South Pacific.’" In John Newtown's 2009 book Becoming Pākehā, the New Zealand poet and critic writes that being Pākehā is an “ongoing process of exploration, negotiation and critique”. Bell reminds us that Newtown says this is "a matter of 'learning to speak and act from that political space which our relationship with Māori opens up to us'" (Newtown. 40).

And so, I begin my journey of becoming Pākehā. I am not seeking redemption but rather a sort of reckoning of what happened when my ancestors came to New Zealand and how their actions, directly or indirectly, disadvantaged the indigenous people of Aotearoa.

4. Crossing Exhibition at Adam Art Gallery

Christina Barton, Director of Adam Art Gallery, very generously welcomed us to Crossings, an exhibition borne from our collective pandemic experience where "Together we withdrew from the world; our most intimate relationships were confined to our bubbles or existed only on screen". The conceptual theme of the show is about intimacies and distances.

Christina invited twelve New Zealand artists to exhibit their work - Turumeke Harrington, Yolunda Hickman, Sonya Lacey, Rozana Lee, Grant Lingard, Vivian Lynn, Allan McDonald, Emma McIntyre, Next Spring, Layla Rudneva-Mackay, Richard Shepherd and James Tapsell-Kururangi. All the works explored how our subjectivity had been modified "activating a process that disrupts perception and feeling and can ultimately generate a transformation, a new way of becoming." (Paul Preciado, Artforum, 2020)

Christina is a skilled curator who is not afraid to provoke so it was unsurprising that I had a mixed response to the varied and disparate artworks. Some I struggled with aesthetically - the freshly unpacked, store bought bedlinen in Grant Lingard's Swan Song, Emma McIntyre's muddied colours in Heat, and Layla Rudneva-Mackay friut with faces. I could see connections of distorted, fragments surfaces and could tentatively link the works together but it was not until I reached the final artworks in the basement that the exhibition theme coalesced. Philip Scheffner and Merle Kröger’s filmwork, Havarie, 2016 and installations by Next Spring were captivating and thought provoking. I particularly liked Boaz Levin's discourse on voyeuristic pleasure -

Vivian Lynn's artist book Threshold was novel in presentation and construction. It was so visceral and embodied that I fell in love with it and wondered if it might contain the germ of an idea for my final work for masters?

An illustrated text by James Tapsell Kururangi was accessible as a PDF via the Gallery’s website (here); a most unusual 'presentation' method for a gallery but it made it more personal and private. Was it voyeurism on my part to parle through his life while living in his grandmother's home after she had died? It felt a little bit like that. Where is the line between privacy and intimacy?



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